United In Care sponsors Busy Place Early Learning Center's summer program to help combat the effects of the pandemic on children's development.
Sitting calmly in his chair, six-year-old Sam was acting like a completely different boy than the one who first enrolled in Busy Place Early Learning Center’s Summer Program – STEAM Ahead—in Jersey City in 2021.
“The first thing I noticed this year was that he was sitting so nicely,” says Busy Place’s special education teacher Nabine Laurore. “Last year he was easily distracted, he was over-stimulated, and he was always looking for attention. He is a very bright kid but had definitely had some behavioral issues. So, when I saw him this year, I was like, this is amazing.”
Sam even remembered many of the strategies Laurore—affectionally called Miss Nabine—taught him the previous summer, like asking a teacher to go for a walk when he felt upset or counting to 10 to calm himself down.
Busy Place was able to hire Laurore as a special education teacher to help students like Sam during their summer program thanks to financial support from United Way of Northern New Jersey’s United In Care child care project.
United In Care’s mission is to increase the affordability and the quality of child care and early learning for New Jersey families known as ALICE—ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and families in poverty. The program also aims to improve the quality of life for child care workers, many of whom are ALICE themselves.
2023 marked the third year United In Care has supported critical summer programming at Busy Place to combat learning loss and behavioral issues that arose during the pandemic. Busy Place is the child care center hub for United In Care’s Hudson County Alliance, which also consists of five family child care providers in Hudson County.
Over the past three summers, United In Care has provided more than $380,000 to help support Busy Place’s summer programs. In 2021, the first year for United In Care, Busy Place used the funds to purchase a comprehensive assessment tool, which helped the staff identify learning gaps and special needs in each of the 38 students enrolled.
This year, Busy Place used some of the funding to update that tool, which helped the staff realize that 60 percent of children had not engaged in any formal education prior to enrolling in the summer program. The other 40 percent needed quite a bit of help to get close to where they should have been without the COVID-19 pandemic.
Busy Place, under the direction of Louiza Reeves-Freeman, then used the remaining funds to hire four teachers, four assistants, one special education teacher (Miss Nabine), one social worker and four support staff. The team then created action plans for each student identified as needing extra care and attention.
“The United In Care funding has continuously allowed us to effectively assess and adequately staff our summer programs to ensure that each student receives the attention he or she needs to get them learning at the appropriate grade level,” Freeman says. “We’ve really been able to help a lot of students and families.”
But Sam wasn’t the only one enrolled in Busy Place who needed special instruction. The assessment tool identified several other students who experienced significant learning loss and high levels of stress and anxiety and are still playing catch up. As is typical with students, they all had different areas to improve.
One 10-year-old student enrolled in his first summer program at Busy Place this year. After the initial assessment, the staff realized he was actually performing at a kindergarten level. He entered the program having trouble with basic math and struggles to write simple sentences. He could not even count to 50 when he first joined the program.
The staff noticed that this student gets easily distracted in a large classroom, so they started to move him to quiet spaces to work, where he showed more eagerness to learn. By the end of the summer, his math had improved to where he could count to 50 with some help and made progress in solving basic addition and subtraction math problems.
Another a 4-year-old boy could not complete any of his assessments, had difficulty communicating his needs, and would get overstimulated in a classroom setting, disrupting the entire class. Busy Place assigned an assistant to work with him one-on-one on both learning exercises and to help manage his behavior.
By the end of the program, this child had made significant strides in managing his behavior and speaking more clearly.
“I’m extremely happy to see his progress this summer at Busy Place,” said his mother “Continuing with his routine has been a great help for him to continue his development. It has given me a lot of peace of mind, joy and satisfaction provided and I’m confident my son is in good hands.”